Frannie Langton is a mulatta slave at the Paradise plantation of Mr. Langton in Jamaica. As a mulatta and a house slave she doesn’t fit in, especially as she has learnt to read and write. When Mr. Langton wants to write a book about species, Frannie helps him with it and the two of them conduct some strange experiments. After a fire, Langton and Frannie leave Jamaica for London. Once there, he gives Frannie away to Mr Benham and she becomes a house slave again. She can’t remember anything when a few months later her mistress, whom she loves dearly, is found dead with herself sleeping beside the body. In jail, Frannie decides to write her story as it may be the only way to save her life.
I picked this book up at the library when looking for Bridget Collins’ ‘The binding’. Lured in by the beautiful cover and the promise of an original gothic novel, I immediately started reading it.
The story opens in London with Frannie in jail for the brutal murder of her owners, Mr. and Mrs. Benham. She can’t remember anything of that night and doesn’t believe she would be able to murder her mistress whom she loved with all her heart. So she starts writing her story from the beginning, when she was still a house slave at a Jamaican plantation.
I had expected much of this story, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. The story does have some gothic elements such as a murder, a household with secrets and some strange experiments, but I wouldn’t define it as the gothic novel I had hoped it would be.
The story itself is interesting enough, although I got the impression of having it read all before. There are a lot of predictable plot elements and some cliches. Frannie is a complex character and you don’t really get a grip on her.
What really put me off was the writing style. Collins writes in first person but it wasn’t always clear whether something was said in a dialogue or it were just thoughts of Frannie herself. I couldn’t follow what was said and done in some chapters. And especially when the trial begins, it all becomes a mess. Frannie appeals to a certain ‘you’, with which she means her lawyer and this strangely changes the whole narrative and style. There are some revelations at the end, but they couldn’t make up for the rest of the novel.
I must give Sara Collins credit for writing some beautiful lines about the importance of reading. The fact that Frannie has learned to read and can share that knowledge with Marguerite is an important aspect of the story. It makes her even more the outcast.
But in the end, I’m disappointed by this book. Yes, it has an original main character and it talks about slavery and racial debate, so in that sense it’s an important story to tell. But I couldn’t see past the messy writing style and had hoped that the crime aspect would take up a more prominent role in the book.
What’s your favorite gothic novel?